Izzo calls win over Marquette in NCAA tourney opener ‘tough’



By The Associated Press

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Tom Izzo called it one of the toughest games he’d ever coached. Michigan State’s dominating defense made things that much harder for his protege.

Raymar Morgan scored eight of his 14 points during a dominating first half, and ninth-seeded Michigan State clamped down on eighth-seeded Marquette in a 61-49 win in the first round of the East Regional on Thursday night.

“I don’t want to just be a defensive team – basketball is a two-way game,” Izzo said. “Saying that, if you can only be good at one, your chances of moving on are better if it’s the defensive end.”

Drew Neitzel and Marquise Gray added 12 points apiece for the Spartans (23-11), who shot nearly 54 percent and never trailed in advancing to face the North Carolina-Eastern Kentucky winner in the second round Saturday.

“It’s been our mind-set the whole season to win with defense,” Neitzel said. “We don’t have the most dynamic weapons on the offensive end, so we’ve had to rely on our team defense the whole season – especially in this game.”

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The nation’s fourth-best scoring defense held Marquette scoreless for almost 10 minutes to start the game and limited the Golden Eagles – coached by Izzo’s longtime friend, Tom Crean – to less than 32 percent shooting in one of their worst performances of the season.

“It was a very difficult prep week for me,” Izzo said. “Yet I’m learning that it’s going to happen in this business. You’re going to play your friends sometimes.”

Izzo saved a few defense tricks for his first matchup against his close friend.

“We had some new things, but bottom line, they executed their defense game plan really well, and we didn’t,” Crean said. “It’s not easy to chase those screens.”

Dominic James scored 18 points on 6-of-16 shooting and Wesley Matthews added 10 points for Marquette (24-10). But they couldn’t keep the Golden Eagles from their puniest point total of the season, falling shy of a 58-point performance in a Jan. 7 loss to Syracuse. Marquette also finished almost 24 points below its scoring average.